‹ Prequel: Black and White

To the End

twenty-one

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Amber holds up a finger as she steps into the house, and I close the door as quietly as I can before trailing after her to the kitchen. She tucks her phone between her cheek and shoulder, sets her iced mocha on the table, and pulls off her jacket, all without speaking. I return to my seat and pick at my breakfast, watching my best friend’s face darken at whatever she hears on the other end of the call.

“I never missed a day, what are you talking about? No, I had that day off. Yes, I did. I took - whatever. Fi - Fine. Bye.” She stabs at the button to end the call, dropping her phone to the tabletop, and drops into the chair across from me. “Choke on a dick, Jay. Hi, babe.”

“Everything okay?”

“Just lost my job is all.”

“Because of all the times you came to see me on the road?”

She shakes her head, stealing a banana slice off my plate. “Nah. Well, according to them, I missed too many days, but any time I came to see you, I had those days off. They’re just mad because I got their favourite supervisor fired. Where’s Niall?”

“He has some things to do today, so he’s getting ready.”

“And he’s leaving you all alone?”

“Thank fuck,” I mutter as I stab at a strawberry with my fork. “I’ll explain later. How attached to that coffee are you?”

She nudges the drink closer to me, and I shove my plate away in favour of sucking down as much chocolaty cold coffee as I can. She raises a brow at my exuberance, but I ignore her. It’s not something I can explain - not with Niall right upstairs.

Footsteps thunder down the stairs, interrupting anything I might want to say. I hurriedly push the cup back in front of Amber; Niall comes to a stop when he sees Amber sat at the table, his gaze flicking between the two of us and the iced mocha.

“Oh. Hi.”

“Mornin’. I’m stealing some precious time with our girl today, if you don’t mind.”

Niall shrugs, ambling to my side to kiss me gently. “Hope you two have fun. I love you.”

“Come back home to me,” I whisper against his lips, feel his smile on mine.

“I always will.”

As soon as he’s out the front door, Amber turns on me, demanding an explanation. I tell her the truth: no matter what my doctor says, Niall will give me A Look full of loving judgement if he thinks I’m drinking too much caffeine or pushing myself too hard. Which is ridiculous. I’ve reached absurd levels of “laziness” since I finished recording the album.

“I know why, really, I do. He’s worried about the baby. But fucking Hell, I’d like to just not, y’know, have to constantly second-guess what I do because I don’t wanna deal with Judgey McJudgerson.”

Amber pushes the mocha towards me again then reaches for my hand. I let her haul me to my feet, follow after her to the living room. She sets about getting reruns of Phineas and Ferb on the television, then makes sure I’m comfortable before dropping to sit next to me.

“If it makes you feel any better about it, I think maybe you got away with stealing my drink today.”

“I hope so,” I sigh. “I certainly fucking hope so.”

{-_-_-_-}


Gold tints the horizon, bleeding pink and orange through the expanse of navy, and a soft breeze rustles in the treetops. The world is slowly waking, but I’ve been up for an hour. The nightmare replays in my mind, fading fast yet no less terrifying. Shivering, I reach for a mug, fill it quickly with coffee, and wrap my hands around the porcelain.

I lean against the counter and sip carefully. Fire erupts in my mouth, on my tongue, but I use the pain to further dispel the panic that clings to me. The dream had been so awful, full of every doubt and fear I’ve had since the pregnancy tests came back positive. Something happening to our child, something happening to us, coming home from a tour to find my baby didn’t recognise me...

My breath hitches, and I swallow another mouthful of coffee instead of giving in to the anxiety. A quiet slap-slap of bare feet against flooring sounds then Niall comes into view. He scrubs at his eyes, yawns widely.

“What are you doing up, love? It’s not even seven.”

“Couldn’t sleep any longer,” I admit quietly, frowning down at the mug in my hands.

“Nightmare again?”

It isn’t a question that requires an answer. Niall has heard about the bad dreams since they started, though I know he’s worried. He and I both hoped that time and assurances from the doctors would make them go away. So far, all the nightmares have done is grow in intensity.

He shuffles across the kitchen to my side, pressing a gentle kiss to my temple. “Have you talked to Doctor Kimball?”

“Both of them, yeah. They don’t really have any suggestions beyond addressing the possible causes and working through them.” I sigh, shift so he can start the kettle for tea. “I wish I knew why the dreams keep happening.”

“Because you’re scared. This is new for you. I’m... I’m scared, too. But we’ll get through this together, you know that.”

“What the hell?” I nearly shout when Niall pulls the mug from my hand and pours the coffee down the drain. My nightmares are now the furthest thing from my mind. “You heard Doctor Porter - I can have coffee!”

“I know, but you also need to take it easy on the caffeine. You’ve had coffee every day for the last week, and don’t think I didn’t notice you stealing Amber’s mocha the other day. If you really want the taste of coffee -”

“Don’t you dare.”

“We can get decaf.”

“That is blasphemy. Sacrilege. Betrayal of the highest order. Torture like that has been banned, I’ll have you know. It’s in the constitution.”

“Good thing I’m an Irishman, so your constitution means nothing to me.”

“It’s also in the Geneva Convention, and Ireland definitely abides by that.”

Niall shakes his head with a soft chuckle, rinsing out my mug against my protests. I cross my arms over my chest and pout even as I let him lead me to the table. Propping one elbow onto the table, I rest my chin on my hand and watch him move about the kitchen. His soft humming fills the room, my heart, and as frustrating as it is to have him being so damn protective, I can’t say that I really mind. Not when I know it’s only because he loves me and our unborn child.

“Talked to the guys lately?” I ask after a few minutes, and he glances back at me over his shoulder before focusing on the tea in front of him. “Just asking ‘cause I haven’t. Which isn’t nice of them. They all promised to keep in touch. I mean, I expected it of Zayn, since he’s told me repeatedly he sucks at maintaining contact with people.”

He shrugs slightly. “I would be surprised if any of them kept in contact, honestly. Liam is probably still recovering from… everything, and I’d gamble all we have that Harry is planning out a solo career. And Louis’s adjusting to being a dad, you know that.”

“I know. I just miss my brothers, that’s all.”

“I’m sure they miss you, petal.” He slides a mug of tea onto the table in front of me, leaning down to brush a kiss to my temple. “You’re hard as Hell to not miss.”

“Is that a fat joke?”

“Wha - no, of course it isn’t!”

I giggle and sip at the drink and whine petulantly when it scalds my tongue. “I know, babe. I’m just being an ass. I think I’m going to take a nap in a bit, if you’re okay with that.”

Niall frowns as he drops into the seat next to me. It isn’t shocking that he rushes to assure me that I’m free to sleep for as long as I’d like, but it still makes me feel less guilty about being so lazy constantly. In my defence, growing another human is really hard work. Tiring, really. I startle when Niall pushes to his feet abruptly, and he apologises as he sets about scrounging up a breakfast that my stomach can tolerate.

The nap isn’t as long as I would have hoped; it is incredibly difficult to sleep with an active baby using my bladder as a trampoline. I stumble sleepily out of the bedroom, scrubbing at my eyes as I carefully make my way down the stairs. The television plays quietly in the living room, but the two men sat on the couch pay no mind to the show, instead talking amongst themselves.

“Moo? What are you doing here?”

Louis rolls his eyes though a smile graces his lips. “Am I ever going to live that down?”

“Nope. Siri deemed you ‘Moo’, so ‘Moo’ you shall be.”

“Siri misheard you saying ‘Lou’ because you had a mouthful of pizza.”

“Siri has spoken!” I announce as I shuffle to sit at Niall’s side. He presses a kiss to my temple, and I grin up at him, leaning into his side. “Hi, babe.”

“How’d you sleep?”

“Eh. Baby wanted to make my innards an amusement park. Not conducive to restful sleep.”

“Hey, mate, can I, er, talk to Erin alone? Just for a minute.”

Niall and I give our friend matching inquisitive looks, and he shrugs awkwardly. Something in his expression, edged with a discomfort I don’t expect, doesn’t sit well with me. I tilt my head up toward my husband, poking his chin.

“Kiss me so I can run off with your best friend.”

Niall’s laugh ghosts across my face, but he does as I demand then helps me to my feet. Louis slings an arm over my shoulders while we head to the stairs. I trust Niall not to eavesdrop - and gods know I’ll probably give him a rundown later over the conversation - but my gut tells me that Louis needs the extra reassurance that whatever he wants to tell me will be done in private.

I shut the door to the fully-soundproofed music room and weave through the room until I reach the armchair. Louis helps me sit, and even though it’s completely unnecessary, I allow it. The poor guy looks like he needs something to do that doesn’t involve being stuck in his own mind. Once I’m settled in my seat, he pulls a stool closer, perches on it, and silence reigns.

Louis keeps his eyes on his lap and fidgets with the string of his hoodie, and why he’s wearing a hoodie when it’s nearly ninety degrees outside, I’ll never understand. When he looks back up at me, his blue eyes are dark, serious in a way I don’t ever expect of him. He’s always been the sweet, giddy, spin-you-till-you-puke friend who’s kept so many of my secrets. I reach out and wrap my fingers around his.

“Lou, what’s going on?”

“I’m jealous of him,” he breathes out, a silent plea in his eyes.

My brows furrow, and I rack my brain for who he could be talking about. “Wait, Sutton?”

“Yeah.” He sighs and scrubs his free hand over his stubbled jaw. “I mean... I don’t even know. I, I don’t want to ruin their relationship. I’m glad she’s happy, and he’s really an okay bloke. And I don’t think it’s even so much that I want to be with her again. I just can’t stop thinking about what we could have had.”

“Oh, Moo-Moo.”

“You think I’m pathetic, don’t you.”

My heart aches at his question that isn’t really a question. It’s a statement of how he views himself, and the knowledge only serves to make me hurt more for him. I tighten my grip on his hand and give him as real of a smile as I can. Even through my grin, I know what I’m about to say will cause him worse pain.

“No. I don’t think that. I will never think that of you. But you don’t get to do this. Please don’t interrupt me, yeah? I mean, you can obviously think what you want, but you two made the decision to divorce. Well, you did more so than she did. But you got divorced. You two chose to not try for a relationship again while she was pregnant with Levi, when she was single and waiting for things to make sense.”

“What should I do?”

My brain stutters with the lack of a solution. Nothing I say can help him. No advice I give will ease the what ifs in his mind, the lost potentials. Sighing, I shift awkwardly in my seat.

“Lou, I hate to say it, but all you can do is be a damn good daddy to that little nugget. And if you ever, ever, ever truly loved Natalie, you have to be supportive of her choice to find love with someone else.”

“So don’t tell her?”

“Don’t tell her. You’re my favourite from One D, but don’t think I won’t kick your ass if you try to fuck with her mind and heart.”

His lips twitch into the ghost of a smile. “Your favourite?”

“Don’t tell Niall,” I demand with a sniff, and his laughter is real, unexpected and bright. “I love you, Moo. You’ll get through this, I promise.”

“I know. Thanks, Erin. I, I appreciate you. You shouldn’t be put in the middle.”

“I’m not in the middle. I’m on the sidelines like a coach. That’s all. Now help me up. Baby wants pineapple.”

To Niall’s surprise, Louis leaves almost immediately after I’m down in the kitchen with a fork and tub of cubed pineapple. My husband stares after his friend then turns to me, one eyebrow raised. I sigh, shake my head, and pop another piece of fruit into my mouth. I do promise to explain it better at a later time; right now, I’m too preoccupied with trying to wrap my mind around the information that Louis has entrusted me with.